Friday, October 31, 2008

Poker World All In For Obama

I'm working on a World Series of Poker final table preview this week and something surprising came up while doing interviews that can't really wait until Nov. 9, when my piece runs.

The poker world is apparently rooting for Barack Obama. The Poker Players Alliance, the industry's lobbyist group with 1 million members and a $1.3 million annual budget, did not endorse either candidate, but consider this comment from PPA Executive Director John Pappas:
"There is a sense that Obama would be better for the poker community. He has a lot of support from the professional poker-playing community."

Pappas acknowledged that neither Obama or John McCain have taken official positions on the most important issue of all, the future of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The UIGEA barred American Internet poker players from using their credit cards or bank accounts to fund their play, there are reasons to believe that Obama would be better. Among those, Obama is known to be an avid poker player who plays to relax on the campaign trail and also watches TV poker.

As for McCain, it's widely known that he enjoys gambling in brick-and-mortar casinos, but he's not known to be much of a poker guy. He has, however, said he would defer on the Internet poker law in question, to his Arizona colleague Sen. John Kyl. Kyl was actually instrumental in sneaking the poker measure onto the ports security act.

It is worth noting that heads of major casino companies and the head of the American Gaming Association have given generously to McCain. They don't, however, have the singularity of purpose that the PPA has; they deal with all sorts of gaming, taxation, labor and other issues that those representing the poker industry don't. So it's not really a fair comparison and it's also probably inappropriate to wonder if this represents a schism between the poker world and its Internet powerhouses and the broader gaming world and its brick-and-mortar interests.

Steve Lipcomb, the founder and CEO of the World Poker Tour, backed up Pappas' contention but said he thinks that a change in administration will help no matter which candidate is elected. Although the 2006 law passed and several online poker companies stopped operating in the U.S., others have continued while the Justice Department works out what the actual rules ought to be and how to enforce the measure.

"My hope is that what will happen is that the next administration will be less prone to care about this stuff and we might be able to get some rational taxation and regulation so that we can go forward," Lipcomb said in an interview from Budapest, where he's attending the World Poker Congress convention.

Still, Lipcomb said, the Democrats are likely to be more favorable. It is, after all, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who has attacked the ban from the start, and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who has used his perch as chair of the House Banking Committee to try to get it undone. (Former GOP Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York chairs the PPA board, though, so there is a bipartisan effort afoot here.)

"There’s no doubt there would be a more open approach from a different party," Lipcomb said. "The Republicans have been more prone to moral legislation and the like. Probably if the Democrat in the White House, it would be better for us."

Obama illustration courtesy of the New Yorker's Tom Bachtell

The Wedding We Attended On Saturday

My friend and Newsweek editor David Jefferson wrote a brilliant essay about marrying his partner, Jeff, on Saturday so as to get in under the wire if California voters decide on Nov. 4 to ban same-sex marriage. This was the wedding Miles and I attended; ours in 2007 was the first gay wedding David had been to.

You should take a moment to read this. I had no idea David was a descendant of another Jefferson, but holy cow does it work out well for him in writing this piece. And after you're done, forward it on to people you know in California, Arizona and Florida who are voting this year on the ability of people they don't know to enjoy stability and love.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Show is UP: Tony Curtis Revealed, Part 2

OK, this is a longer episode than usual, but it'll have to tide y'all over because we'll be busy working on Election Night next week when we'd normally be in the studio recording. So enjoy! More good stuff in here about the Rat Pack, Jamie Lee Curtis, who was and wasn't gay in Hollywood, stars Tony loved and hated and more. Click on the date to hear it or right-click to download the show and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Oct. 30: Tony Curtis, Part II

If you thought Tony Curtis’ remarks on last week’s show were something, just wait till you hear the rest of it. The actor, out with a sex-soaked memoir of his career and life, offers some tough words this hour for a long list of Hollywood figures including Jerry Lewis, Angela Lansbury, Danny Kaye, Neil Simon and more. Then, later, he discusses his own mental health issues, his views of old and new Vegas and tries to explain why he’s so disappointed by his film career.

In Banter: Is Criss No. 1, Paris is for shopping and what really ails Las Vegas Sands?


Steve’s piece on Tony Curtis for USA Today is here
Tony Curtis’s Wikipedia entry is here
Is Criss Angel is No. 1? See here
See more about LVS crashing again here
Steve’s column about resort anniversaries is here
Is Paris for shoppers? Read more here

This week's LVW col: No Ado About Something

Here's this week's LVW piece...

No Ado About Something

Bellagio's 10th birthday passes with a whimper


As momentous occasions go, this one should have been a big deal. And yet, until a friend who works there mentioned it last week, I had forgotten all about it. Bet you did, too.

In mid-October, the Bellagio turned 10. That’s a significant milestone, representing the fact that we’re a dizzying decade on from one of those pivotal turning points in Las Vegas history. The opening of a genuine luxury resort with great food, shopping and amenities was the most important step toward saying to the world, “Vegas isn’t tacky anymore.”

And yet in this city of parties for parties’ sake, of promotions for everything from the opening of terrible movies to the 1,000th production of Cirque du Whatever, what MGM Mirage opted to do to commemorate this milestone was rather, shall we say, anti-Vegas. Lame, too.

They did almost nothing. They threw a party in the employee dining service that involved a buffet of signature dishes from the property’s high-end restaurants and a DJ spinning live. They handed out a brochure with fun facts about Bellagio, showed the names of the 3,181 original employees still working there on an internal monitor and gave everyone a 10th-anniversary T-shirt. (I want one!)

That’s it. No star-studded party. No special deals for favorite guests. No souvenir chips. Not even a press release.

Read the rest HERE

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No Voting On The Strip This Time

We all remember the hullabaloo surrounding the Nevada caucuses that took place in the ballrooms of several resorts in January. It was seen near and far as an amusing, very Vegas sideshow during the Great Obama-Clinton Struggle of 2008. God, doesn't that seem like a long time ago?

As much credit as the national press and Strip employees gave the gaming bosses for helping them participate in such a time-certain event, some workers are now grumbling that there's no Early Voting trailer set up to help them get to the polls during, before or after their work days. In 2004, there was one and MGM Mirage even ran shuttle buses to ferry employees to and fro. (The site was on an empty lot along Industrial Road behind the Mirage where an employment center for CityCenter is being built.)

Was this, MGM Mirage employees wondered, a diabolical plot by Republican and McCain backer Terry Lanni, the C.E.O., to suppress Democratic voting, seeing how Barack Obama's chances are looking a lot better than John Kerry's were four years ago?

"That’s stupid in many, many ways, including all of the effort we have put in to remind people to vote, to encourage people to vote," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said. "Terry even sent out a letter reminding people."

Then what happened? Well, MGM Mirage and the other gaming companies got together in 2004 to set up the Early Voting trailer but, by the time they got it all arranged, the other companies dropped out. MGM Mirage had to cover the entire cost, which may have been north of $5,000, Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said.

For all that cost and effort, results were modest in 2004. The polling places, staffed by county employees and equipped with expensive, handicap-accessible portable toilets, were open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the two weeks only to become among the least-used sites in the county, Lomax said. This after similarly low usage occurred in 1998, 2000 and 2002 when Early Voting polling sites were set up at the Fashion Show Mall.

Lomax gave one more reason the county decided to abandon the concept: Once word got out that the county was allowing the resorts to pay to arrange a polling place, other interest groups started clamoring for ones, too, and offering to pay. "Turnout was lousy and we also learned it was not a good idea for other people to start bidding for polling places," Lomax said. "We no longer let anyone pay for a site."

That all makes sense, but Feldman said the company probably wouldn't have bothered this year anyway. Early voting polling sites are ubiquitous and convenient all over the valley -- I voted in a supermarket 10 days ago. "There’s ample opportunity for folks when they’re off shift to go vote," Feldman said. "It's not necessary anymore for us to do this."

So that's that. It does seem to be working. The voting totals thus far have been ginormous and the Democrats certainly aren't hurting.

Vegas Says Politics is Hip

This is kind of amazing to me. Those who followed politics and those who partied hardy in Vegas never used to be the same group. But in this weird year, when the World Series hopes for a ratings bump from tonight's Barack Obama Show, when US Weekly covers the candidates as if they were pop-culture celebrities and when Paris Hilton offers a more sensible energy plan than either O'Biden or McPalin, I supposed it makes sense that the Strip would get in the act, too. This is, after all, the Greatest Reality Show Ever.

Beyond the Get Out The Vote event noticed above for Saturday night involving Amy Smart and, LAVO at Palazzo is also hosting an election-night results party on Nov. 4 starting at 5:30 p.m. (Click here to get on the guest list.) According to the email invite I received, "the most influential movers and shakers" will be there. With the Democrats gathering for their party's party at the Rio and the GOP gathering for theirs at the sportsbook formerly known as the 40/40 Club downstairs from LAVO, it really all depends on who they count as "movers and shakers."

Regardless, what a fascinating approach. I suspect we'll be seeing more of these events planned for Nov. 4 in coming days. Surely, for instance, the gays will gather at Krave? Oh, and Obama's coming back to Vegas for the 20th time -- and second time in a week -- on Saturday. So I guess our measly 5 electoral votes really matter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dow up 500 pts, LVS down 14.6 percent

UPDATE, 9 a.m. 10/29: MGM Mirage announced its 3rd quarter profit was down 67 percent and that it's putting a freeze on plans for new development in Atlantic City and Las Vegas beyond CityCenter. Overall occupancy in Vegas fell to 95 percent, which doesn't sound that bad, and Bellagio earnings were actually up 8 percent. As a result (?), MGM stock is up 24 percent right now. LVS is up 71 percent! Boyd up 21 percent! Wynn is up 31 percent! Bargain hunting? I don't get it.

The Venetian folks just can't catch a break. This ski-slope is their graph for the past month. Even when the market recovers 9.5 percent, LVS' value plummets. Down another 14.6 percent today? There has to be a floor, right? $5 a share for a company with these kinds of assets? Just look at this freefall in the past few months. This stock closed at $138 on 10/30/07. Can someone explain what's happening here? Could Sheldon Adelson go broke?

R-J Cutting Staff

The Review-Journal's reporting staff was already too small and is basically the same size as it was when I arrived there in 1996 even as the city's population doubled. But now they're about to cut 100 employees via buyouts to reduce payroll costs. A piece in the Las Vegas Sun reported this, along with the claim by publisher Sherman Frederick that this is necessary "despite the newspaper's circulation gains."

Of course, as I've shown before, there were no actual circulation gains of any value. The paper, which saw its circulation rise 1.2 percent in 2007, is still 7.2 percent behind its daily figures for 2006. The paper's Sunday circulation is the same as it was a decade ago as the valley added 1 million more residents. Indeed, even as he's failed to gain anything from one of the biggest and fastest population influxes in U.S. history, Sherm clucks about his success and he calls me an idiot. Hmm.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/ more TONY CURTIS

Hey kids, we're live tonight at LVRocks.Com. starting at about 6:45 p.m. PT since now we have that show after us and we can't go long anymore. Boo.

We're playing the rest of my Tony Curtis chat. If you thought Tony Curtis’ remarks on last week’s show were something, just wait till you hear the rest of it. The actor, out with a sex-soaked memoir of his career and life, offers some tough words this hour for a long list of Hollywood figures including Jerry Lewis, Angela Lansbury, Danny Kaye, Neil Simon and more. Then, later, he discusses his own mental health issues, his views of old and new Vegas and tries to explain why he’s so disappointed by his film career.

Listen live and join us in the chat or catch the podcast later in the week. Your call.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Week's LVW Col: Still the Defiant One

Here's last week's Las Vegas Weekly column. The rest of my Tony Curtis conversation will appear on this week's episode of "The Strip," which we'll record tomorrow night. Listen live, of course, at 7 p.m. at LVRocks.Com, and join the chat room.

Still the Defiant One
The incurable angst of Tony Curtis

If you’ve ever watched even a single episode of the E! True Hollywood Story, you know the formula: A star hits it big, looms large in our collective consciousness, struggles with his fill-in-the-blank inner demons, hits rock bottom, comes to terms with his problems, triumphs and enjoys either a resurgence or at least a peaceful dotage.

Except after more than two hours of interviewing Tony Curtis in his home in Henderson, something striking becomes painfully obvious: Curtis has enjoyed neither that resurgence nor that peaceful dotage. He tries to make it seem that way both in the first hour of our conversation and in the last chapter of his new sex-soaked memoir, American Prince, but even in the book there are hints that he is wrapping the story up in a sloppily tied bow merely to give the saga the ending that Hollywood and the book-publishing business demands.

At nearly 83 years old, Curtis is not contented. In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that he’s somewhat bitter and sorrowful about how his life and career have turned out, what happened in his marriages, why his kids have little to do with him.

“I don’t know why I’m so dissatisfied,” confides the star of Some Like It Hot, Spartacus, The Defiant Ones and another 120 films. “What am I looking for? What am I chasing?”

If he doesn’t know at this stage of his life, I’m not sure who or what is going to supply that answer.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Readings

Miles and I took a road trip to California for the wedding of our friends David and Jeff, and I've got some fun stuff to share about that later. But because Desperate Housewives is starting shortly and then Mad Men's season ends, I wanted to do this post first about the stuff worth noting and/or remarking about in the Sunday papers...

* God Bless You, Howard Stutz. Two days after that ridiculous report by Sharyl Attikisson of CBS News on gaming-industry political donations to John McCain, the Review-Journal's gaming-industry writer Howard Stutz did the same story, only he did it right. He forewarned me on Friday via e-mail that his was coming and I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't have any serious complaints about it. I really don't. If you go back to my critique of Attkisson's painful four minutes of ineptly-researched garbage, what did I wish she had done? Provide context. Analyze both presidential candidates' records on gaming issues, such as they are, and also what sorts of gaming matters come before a president or Congress. Discuss the intra-Wynn political schism. Realize that there are players in Vegas other than Adelson and Wynn. Speak to credible experts. Consider that these people may give for many reasons, including personal political philosophy, and not merely their jobs running casino companies. Howard did all of that.

I would've liked it if Stutz had compared this year's giving to past presidential-year cycles. But unlike Attkisson, Stutz never claimed there were any records being broken. CBS breathlessly trumpeted this as some sort of new trend. That may be true, it's still not been shown in numbers. But I imagine Stutz didn't look at the story this way because he doesn't approach the subject of Las Vegas or gambling as an exotic, shady, predatory oddity of an industry. It's just the business he covers and at some point prior to an election as big as this one, he needed to examine this angle. So he did. Without judgment. You know, like journalists are supposed to.

* Paris is For...Shopping? The L.A. Times Travel section normally covers Vegas really well. That's why the Las Vegas angle of a chart on recession-era alternatives various expensive international excursions was surprising in its weirdness. The feature suggests, for instance, that instead of going to Hong Kong, you might go to Chinatown in San Francisco. And the last item suggests coming to Paris Las Vegas instead of Paris, France. Predictable enough, sure. But get a load of their reasoning:

"This hotel-casino's central Strip location and link to the monorail make it a shopper's delight, whether you're looking to browse the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian or the Forum Shops at Caesars."

Huh. That's funny, because neither the Venetian nor Caesars are on the monorail line. And, in fact, if the appeal of Paris LV is a nexus between the monorail and shopping, it's worth noting that there isn't a single resort on the monorail line that has a decent mall of any repute. A very, very strange thing for anyone to write, no?

* Married ... with the Rev. Presley! Sean Whaley did a really interesting piece in the R-J about an odd quirk in Nevada law that requires that anyone striving for a license to administer weddings in the state declare a religious affiliation. In other words, you can't be an atheist and perform legal weddings unless you happen to be a judge, too. That's a good story. I might follow up on that one.

* Downsizing By, Uh, Farming It Out. In recent months, the R-J has taken a number of moves to save money in these troubled times, including reducing the number of pages of features coverage they provide and folding the section into others at least twice a week. As a result, they've got some terrific reporters being underused. Sonya Padgett and Corey Levitan come to mind.

So why on Earth would they be wasting the money to commission someone named Stephen Michael Shearer for an occasional series of profiles of Old Vegas entertainment figures? And not only did they hire this fellow, but they had another writer, John Przybys, profile the special contributor, Shearer! So I'm thinking, "Wow, this guy must be really something special to shove aside staffers perfectly capable of producing these stories!" Except from Przybys' piece, all I learn is that Shearer wrote a 2006 book on actress Patricia Neal. That's it. He's not even some Vegas old-timer himself with some valuable access and perspective other writers might not have. The piece indicates that Shearer has been an actor much of his life, but there's no mention of anything he's done that anyone would be familiar with.

Far be it from me to suggest that freelancers not get work. But something's a bit off when a one-time author who appears to have a rather slim resume is being treated as a celebrated writer that the paper's readers are being told should feel honored has graced it with his brilliant prose. Why the heck doesn't The New York Times profile me every time I write for them? I need to renegotiate that deal!

Shearer also goes on in his piece about how he plans to profile pre-1970s Vegas performers who, Przybys writes, "can't already be found in books or on the Internet." Except that his first piece, which ran today, is about actress Rose Marie, and most of the interesting stuff in here has been reported before and is easy to find online.

Others Shearer plans to profile include Phyllis Diller and Dick Smothers, the Przybys piece says. Boy oh boy! Don't know about you, but I can hardly wait! I'm so grateful the paper warned me in advance so when those fine Sundays come, I can handle my overwhelming glee!